(This novel is translated and adapted by Ms. Shuang Wu. The original novel 海外剩女 by author Ms. Xi Zhang was published in China earlier this year. It tells stories of female students from China struggling to find love in Boston, and has received rave reviews. A play in Chinese language with the same title will be staged at Northeastern University on Oct. 10, 2015. The photo of a trial in the White Mountains in N.H. is by David Li.)
A Woman Approaching Expiration Date — Chapter 4
Jingzhe carefully read the letter several times, and again went to Li Qiu for advice.
“Why does he ask me to book a hotel room for his visit to Boston?”
“Really? Are you kidding? Since he’s the one who proposed the visit, he should pay the cost.” Li Qiu told her.
“Did I read the letter wrong?” At the mention of money, Jingzhe quickly came to her senses.
“He did ask you to make a reservation.” After reading the letter for the second time, Li Qiu confirmed, and then offered Jingzhe some analysis, “He wanted to have the first meeting in a public place to make you feel safe. From this perspective, he is a nice guy. But he asked you to book a hotel room for him. That doesn’t sound right to me.”
“So what should I do?” A bad thought flashed through Jingzhe’s mind – what if he was a bad guy, and he chose a crowded place so that he could make an easy escape? But Jingzhe quickly dismissed the thought.
“Calm down. Don’t jump to conclusions. Since he has given you his cell phone number, perhaps you want to give him a call.” Li Qiu advised.
But Jingzhe went to check hotels online first, and noticed that hotel rooms near the airport cost hundreds of dollars for just one night. She couldn’t afford it as a matter of fact. So, after some careful consideration, Jingzhe wrote to Robert, again in her usual calm and friendly tone, and explained that Boston isn’t a big city really. If Robert could please make a hotel reservation himself, she could easily come visit him.
Later that night, Jingzhe decided to give Robert a call. However, no one answered the phone, and Jingzhe eventually had to give up and went to bed. The next morning, Jingzhe got up to see a message from Robert, saying that he missed her call because he was busy with his project. Jingzhe immediately picked up the phone and called him back. This time, a stranger’s voice came through the phone line. It sounded like a young lad. Jingzhe felt kind of weird and was quite baffled. He didn’t sound like the kind of person she had imagined. Anyway, he explained to Jingzhe that he misses her, but at the moment he is working and would send her text messages later. With that he quickly hung up.
After putting down the phone, Jingzhe felt strange and deflated. If the half-month online communication had got her heated up to a boiling point, now it has come down to lukewarm at best. How could a man who can afford frequent business trips would seem to worry about his cell phone bill? Why did he hang up in such a hurry? More importantly, the voice of a middle-aged man should sound strong and reassuring. Why did it sound like a youngster instead?
Since the phone call, Robert stopped sending her emails but replaced them with text messages. Although Jingzhe answered whatever he asked, she felt less enthusiastic about the whole thing. The weekend was approaching, would Robert come? When Jingzhe asked about his work progress, Robert said he felt kind of frustrated. He complained that something had went wrong which made him quite anxious. The Malaysia government was so irresponsible that he couldn’t get through the procedures on schedule. From his side, he still really wanted to finish the project as planned so that he could come to Boston to meet Jingzhe that weekend.
Alarm bells started ringing in Jingzhe’s mind. “So, what can I do to help?” With her whole heart, Jingzhe prayed that Robert would answer, “No, thanks. I will manage it myself”. But the much-dreaded answer came at once – Robert asked her to transfer 3,000 dollars to a designated bank account, saying that with the money he could pull through and meet Jingzhe as planned.
Like a violin string gets suddenly broken in the middle of a piece of climatic music, Jingzhe felt as though all the lights had gone out of her. She did not even have the energy to make a groan, and she had lost her ability to react.
Jingzhe stayed listless for a few days afterwards. Why everything happened the way it did? Clearly, America was not her homeland and she had not been accepted by it. She only wanted to have a safe shelter. Is that too much to ask? Her only merit is her educational background. However, how come it seems as though the higher her academic qualifications are, the farther away she is from love and marriage? She doesn’t have a pretty face, nor a slender and graceful figure. She is not going to be able to attract the men walking down the street. So her only choice is to turn to the internet and take up a place among numerous female marriage-seekers. This is so hopeless, Jingzhe thought.
When Jingzhe was finally ready to talk, Li Qiu offered her some advice and support.
“The whole thing was too good to be true. So now it is over. Just be careful next time and don’t give out too much information about yourself in the future. Otherwise, what would happen if you meet a guy even worse?”
“Is there going to be a next time?”
“Of course. But you need to learn not to jump into the deep end head on first. And if you do, you need to climb out of it. If you want to stay in America, you have to learn how to handle these tough situations on your own.” Li Qiu told her matter-of-factly.
That night, Jingzhe stared at the ceiling with tears in her eyes, and wondered to herself, “Is that only Chinese women who would face such embarrassment? Is it the same with women from other Asian countries?”
She would find no answer.
Jingzhe went into a long hibernation after her first online adventure, and when she came out of it, it was already September. The autumn in Boston was rich in color. It was red, yellow, and orange, or rather, it was more like a colorful dream. Nobody can explain why Boston’s autumn is so beautiful, and why the deep red maple leaves look so breathtaking. Perhaps, people in America all live their fairytale lives, just like a dream? Jingzhe wondered.
Noticing Jingzhe’s brooding mood, Li Qiu advised Jingzhe that the best way to recover from such a disastrous encounter is to have a new relationship quickly. Jingzhe was hesitant at first, but eventually admitted that it is time to pick herself up and try another online dating site again. This time, Li Qiu suggested to Jingzhe to join “Cupid.com”.
A few days after registering for the site, a man named Harrell showed interests in Jingzhe. This guy looked to be in his early 40s, and said he was a mechanical engineer. His registered address is in Hawaii. He smiled happily in his photos. After Jingzhe wrote to him, he quickly replied and sent his cell phone number and his personal email address to Jingzhe, saying that he would be interested in further contact.
So Jingzhe sent Harrell a text message to check whether the number was real. Before long, Harrell called her back, and expressed his appreciation for her greeting. He had a nice voice, and their phone conversation was pleasant. Jingzhe thought he was a nice man. After three phone calls, Harrell asked Jingzhe whether they could have a video call through Skype.
Jingzhe initially didn’t even know what Skype is, but after a discussion with Li Qiu, she bought into the idea. Firstly, according to Li Qiu, frauds are generally reluctant to show their face on Skype. And secondly, Jingzhe really wanted to know what the man on the other end of the phone looked like. So with the help of Li Qiu, Jingzhe quickly got familiar with Skype. When Harrell called her up the next night, Jingzhe was happy to tell him that they could have a video call.
Jingzhe had only seen photos of Harrell at this point, and to her it appeared as though everything was still floating in the air. Would it feel more real if Harrell appeared over Skype? Jingzhe asked herself. But then again, Skype is also in cyber space, and people there are still beyond her reach. Perhaps it isn’t real after all.
But when Harrell showed up on camera, Jingzhe felt relieved. She saw a lean, mature and handsome guy. In fact, he looked somewhat like President Clinton. Behind him, there was a queen-size bed and a desk for the computer. There was not much of anything else, since the room was very small. He smiled at the camera, and Jingzhe also greeted him friendly. Both of them felt relaxed shortly afterwards.
Harrell stood up on camera, and invited Jingzhe to check out his figure. “What do you think of this, huh?” he made a pose and asked. Jingzhe nodded and told him he looked great, and indeed, quite strong. Then the next thing he did, he asked Jingzhe to stand up and turn around. Although Jingzhe wasn’t used to it, she complied out of politeness.
“Wonderful! You have a beautiful body! It’s sexy!”Harrell exclaimed.
It was the first time Jingzhe had been complimented for being sexy by a man, and she felt kind of embarrassed.
“Why do you want to meet an Asian woman?”She wanted to change topic quickly.
“Because Asian women are beautiful and sexy.”Harrell answered.
Jingzhe was surprised by his answer and commented that Asian women tend to be too skinny and less curvy than Western women, but Harrell stuck to his opinion and insisted that he was partial to Asian women for their sexiness. After they chatted for a while, Harrell mentioned to Jingzhe that his mother was in hospital and he was going to visit her for dinner that night. He wanted to continue Skyping with Jingzhe when he comes back, and Jingzhe said OK.
At about 8 o’clock that night, when Jingzhe was talking things over with Li Qiu during dinner, a text message from Harrell arrived, in which he asked Jingzhe to dress sexy for their next video call.
“What?! This request is rude! What does he mean?”Jingzhe was being thrown off balance.
Li Qiu laughed, “But it’s quite natural for a guy to make such a request. Americans think a lot about sex. If one could get comfortable with it, it could help to speed up the relationship.”
Jingzhe thought this over, and although still somewhat hesitant, she changed into a light blue lingerie dress with shoulder-straps for Harrell’s video call on Skype.